Since The Thick Of It has been off the air for so long, there’s a whole wealth of British political events for the show to get through spoofing, but I’ve been waiting to see if it would try to tackle the News International phone-hacking scandal, by far the biggest story of the Cameron administration. I figured it couldn’t be directly parodied—the details are too specific and convoluted to try and cram into the show’s existing formula. But, with the fifth episode of this season (the first to blend together the coalition and opposition storylines) it seems the coziness between politicians and the media (and the culture of “leaking”) is going to come under scrutiny.
Like every truly memorable episode of The Thick Of It (including the last two), the storyline this week is a runaway train. Everyone (Malcolm, Stewart, Peter, even Nicola) are trying manfully to stay on board and get things back to normal, but since they’re all acting independently of each other, they’re collectively making things far worse. Add to that the fact that Stewart appears disconnected from the Prime Minister these days (a problem Malcolm never had), and, well, the whole episode is just a beautiful tableau of chaos.
We begin with Nicola turfed out and fleeing the press at every opportunity (including the dancing human-sized chop), receiving cursory applause at a party headquarters that is already toasting the rise of Dan Miller. As usual, Nicola lurches between fluttery nervousness and extreme anger, wondering whether to even broach the topic of halting an inquiry that could shed light on her husband’s dodgy business practices, but then promising to bring everyone down with her, including Dan and Malcolm, when they refuse to help. It’s to her credit that she doesn’t blanch when Malcolm unleashes the torrent of abuse he’s been storing up for two years, and in defeat, she has gained some self-awareness: “This is why they got rid of me, isn’t it?” she asks Helen while agonizing on the stairs. “No, there were...other reasons,” Helen mumbles, which is true, but Nicola’s definitely picked up on one of her major flaws.
The inquiry into Mr. Tickle’s death, which Nicola initially called for, first seems like it will just hit Peter Mannion and DOSAC, along with Nicola herself, who has already self-immolated anyway. Malcolm and Dan are comfortable with that, and decide not to back off on the party line that Nicola set. But, just as Nicola seems to have gained self-awareness with her latest failure, the suicide of Mr. Tickle has invigorated Peter, who cheerfully ignores Stewart’s bleating for the whole episode and kicks his own PR fightback into gear. His big plan is to widen the scope of the inquiry into the “culture of procurement,” so as to place most of the blame on his predecessor Nicola.
As much as Peter’s charms are based in his weariness, it’s nice to see him show a bit of spark. I particularly enjoyed the scene where he tells Phil and Emma to decide which one of them has to resign (leading to a lot of sputtering about inside leg measurements from Phil) and his rebuttal to a distraught Terri, who is trying to get herself fired in the most financially advantageous way possible. “Alright Terri, I admit it, I’m in love with you, now fuck off back to the office and plan the wedding!”
Still no sign of the Fucker, but Stewart’s goose is well and truly cooked by the end of this episode, as the wide inquiry goes even wider into the very culture of leaking itself. There’s no doubt this is inspired by the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking. While David Cameron ordered a specific probe into the hacking and police bribery by the News of the World staff, he also told Leveson to look into the culture and ethics of the media in general, which some thought was an effort to deflect the attention from his government’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch.
Of course, it’s such a wide scope that it ends up blowing up in everyone’s face, and Malcolm and Stewart are particularly horrified at this turn of events. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, to paraphrase a popular fucking Bangles song,” Malcolm intones to Ollie, now installed as his right-hand man. “If a government can’t leak, do you know what happens? Dark shit builds up, and it bursts.”
No one is untouched by this turn of events, not even Fergus and Adam, who try and cover their asses by having Glenn leak an email chain that implicates Peter and his staff in mocking Mr. Tickle, but also features Fergus slamming the policy that led to his suicide. But because they entrust this action to Glenn, they end up majorly screwed, since Glenn forwards the whole chain to the Guardian and pretty much sinks everyone. Glenn doesn’t come off quite as pathetic as I’m making him sound (he’s certainly no longer beholden to Fergus), but his attempt to rejoin Ollie and the opposition fail miserably, and he is now truly a man without a country. I hope he doesn’t go the way of Mr. Tickle.
So next week we have the inquiry, and after that, I assume, Armageddon? Something along those lines. One thing I can confidently predict—Nicola’s warnings of doom and gloom are not unfounded. I have a feeling she has more of a role to play than Dan Miller (who she accurately describes as Malcolm’s puppet).
- A couple of U.K.-specific media references that tickled my nostalgia bone were Helen telling Nicola “That’s precisely why I didn’t let you go on The One Show” and Malcolm telling Nicola to fuck off “and prepare for your column in Grazia.” Even Dan Miller thinks that last one is harsh.
- Stewart is nothing if not prepared for chaos. “You will go to the Z drive, you will find a file called Miller’s Ascension Whitehall Arab Spring. Open. Ingest!”
- Phil doesn’t want Peter to resign. “You’re Aslan! No one shaves your mane!” “I’m not a fucking lion, Phil.”
- Adam complains that the coalition has done nothing in three years compared to another company. “Apple have launched two iPhones, three iPads, and their boss is a fucking dead guy!”
- Terri needs a lump sum buyout to get a tea shop for her retirement. Later, as things fall apart, she asks Glenn, “What about my tea shop?” “IT GOT CLOSED. THERE’S BEEN A MURDER!”
- Peter tries to read the incriminating email chain, but can’t operate his phone. “I think I’ve just taken a picture of my feet!”
- Malcolm tells Ollie to dispose of Glenn without telling him. “The Queen’s butler finds a cockroach in a pantry, he just stamps on it. She doesn’t even know.”
- Malcolm has further advice for his new right-hand man. “When this inquiry lands, you better have developed a very flat, stony expression. But that’ll be easy for you, that’s your fucking cum-face, isn’t it?”